Arthur Evans, at 68; was fervent activist for gay rights
NEW YORK - Arthur Evans, who helped form and lead the movement that coalesced after gay people and their supporters protested a 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a New York gay bar, died Sunday at his home in San Francisco. He was 68.
The cause was a heart attack, his friend Hal Offen said. Mr. Evans was found to have had an aortic aneurysm last year.
Mr. Evans was not at the Stonewall disturbances, but they fueled in him a militant fervor and inspired him to join the Gay Liberation Front, an organization started during the wave of gay assertiveness that followed.
For Mr. Evans and other militants, however, the group was not assertive enough. They worried that it was diluting its effectiveness by taking stands on issues beyond gay rights - opposing the Vietnam War and racial discrimination, for example. So in December 1969 they split off to found the Gay Activists Alliance, choosing a name to suggest more aggressive tactics.
Based in New York, the alliance became a model for gay rights organizations nationwide, pushing in New York for legislation to ban discrimination against gay men and lesbians in employment, housing, and other areas. Mr. Evans wrote its statement of purpose and much of its constitution, which began, “We as liberated homosexual activists demand the freedom for expression of our dignity and value as human beings.’’
To attract attention the alliance staged what its members called “zaps,’’ confrontations with people or institutions they believed discriminated against gay people. Among other incidents, they confronted Mayor John V. Lindsay of New York, went to television studios to protest shows perceived as antigay, demanded same-sex marriage rights at the city’s marriage license bureau, and demonstrated at the taxi commission against a regulation, since abolished, requiring gay people to get a psychiatrist’s approval before they could be allowed to drive a taxi.
In the fall of 1970, Mr. Evans and others showed up at the offices of Harper’s Magazine in Manhattan to protest an article it had published sharply criticizing gay people and their lifestyle. It was Mr. Evans’s idea to bring a coffee pot, doughnuts, a folding table, and chairs for a civilized “tea party.’’ When the editor, Midge Decter, refused to print a rebuttal as the group demanded, Mr. Evans erupted.
“You knew that this article would contribute to the oppression of homosexuals!’’ he yelled, said the book “Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America’’ by Dudley Clendinen, a former New York Times reporter, and Adam Nagourney, a current Times reporter. “You are a bigot, and you are to be held responsible for that moral and political act.’’
Arthur Evans was born in York, Pa. He attended Brown University on a scholarship and there joined a group of self-styled “militant atheists.’’
He left Brown after three years and headed for New York’s Greenwich Village, having read in Life magazine that it welcomed gay people. In New York, he transferred to City College and switched his major from political science to philosophy. Graduating in 1967, he entered the doctoral program in philosophy at Columbia, where he studied ancient Greek philosophy and participated in antiwar protests.
But, becoming disenchanted with academia, he withdrew from Columbia in 1972 and moved to Washington state, where he and a companion, calling themselves the Weird Sisters Partnership, homesteaded a patch of forest and lived in a tent.
When the Washington experiment failed, Mr. Evans and his companion moved to San Francisco. There, he and Offen opened a Volkswagen repair business named the Buggery.
While living in Washington, Mr. Evans had spent his winters in Seattle researching the historical origins of the counterculture. After settling in San Francisco, he wrote “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture,’’ a 1978 book tracing homophobic attitudes to the Middle Ages, when people accused of witchcraft, the book contended, were being persecuted in part for their sexuality, often their homosexuality.
He also wrote “Critique of Patriarchal Reason’’ (1997), saying misogyny and homophobia have influenced supposedly objective fields like logic and physics.